Friday, July 27, 2012

You Are Your Golf Swing

It’s always odd and a little disturbing when other people know things about you that you don’t.  The circumstances can be extreme, like, say, Liv Tyler thinking Todd Rundgren was her dad when it was really Steven Tyler.  Most of us don’t have anything like that, but who isn’t surprised at how your voice sounds when it’s recorded?

If you play golf, your swing is like that.  It’s a personal thing, how you make all of the moving parts work to put the club on the ball to put the ball where you want it -- hopefully.  There are few fundamental rules to it.  Keep your head down and your eyes on the ball.  Keep your left – or, if you’re left-handed, right – arm straight as long as you can.  After that, it’s your preference.  Your swing is your creation.

Golf swings are like Rorschach tests because they tell you something about the player’s personality, his or her psychology.  Ernie Els, at the age of 42, just won the British Open, 10 years after the last time he won that major.  (The majors are the four most important tournaments every year – the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA.)  He’s known as the Big Easy, after his swing.  His swing is, and always has been, a thing of beauty, long and languid.  Check it out: Ernie Els swing.  He won the 1994 U.S. Open, at 24, with the same swing he has now.  Somehow, when you watch that swing, it doesn’t seem very surprising that Els has handled having a severely autistic son well, telling his family’s story and putting his fame to work raising money for autism research. 

The comparison of swings with the man who eclipsed Els as a golfer – who, more than anyone else, ensured that Els, whatever his talent, would not win very many majors – is striking.  Tiger Woods is constantly, infamously changing his swing.  He exploded in 1997, winning – at 21 – his first professional Masters by 12 shots.  Then he changed his swing to be more consistent.  In 2000, with his then-new swing grooved, he had the greatest year any professional golfer has ever had, winning three of the four majors.  Els finished second in three majors that year – once, at the U.S. Open, losing to Woods by 15 shots.  Woods then changed his swing again.  The new swing worked beautifully, as Woods won and won, but the stress of it wore down his left knee.  His greatest victory was in the 2008 U.S. Open, where he won in a playoff on a knee with a torn ligament and two stress fractures that required season-ending surgery immediately afterward.  He came back and did very well in 2009, but that year ended with his Thanksgiving weekend car crash that split open the whole mess of his personal life.  Attempting to come back from that, he’s working on a new swing again (Tiger Woods' many swings), with decidedly mixed results.

This is assuredly overstating it, but it’s hard not to see the two players’ personalities in their swings.  Els never changed his swing, even when being surpassed.  A flaw athletically maybe, but perhaps more of a recipe for a good life.  Woods, always changing, always searching with his swing, seemingly with his life, too, to the point of making an absolute mess.  He is now openly frustrated, swearing at himself on the course, going so far as to kick a club at this year’s Masters.

For those of us who play just for “fun,” our swings aren’t as central to our lives – they don’t make our livings – but, if you play regularly, then you spend a lot of time with your swing.  I’ve been playing – at first regularly, then irregularly for many years, now regularly again – for over 30 years, so I have probably spent, in total, years with my swing.  And it’s always curious how much it tells other people about me and how little I understand it.

My first inkling of this came a few years ago, when I got back in touch with a high school friend with whom I’d played on our school’s team.  He said, “We need to play some time.  Got to get another look at your crazy swing, with your front foot flying wide open.  I still try to do that when I want to hit it extra long.”  This was a real eye-opener.  I never had any idea that I was doing anything unique.  When I started paying attention to my feet and other people’s feet when they play, however, it jumped right out that, as I swing through the ball, I pivot my front foot around on my heel, so that my left toe points forward when I’m done.  I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do that.  When I looked at a picture of me playing in high school, there was the exact same front foot flying wide open.  What does it mean?  It means that I swing too hard and I – without ever thinking about it – release my front foot’s hold on the ground so that the force of my swing doesn’t stop on my knee or ankle.  (Stopping the force of his swing on his left knee contributed to Tiger Woods’ 2008 injury.)  It means that I hit the ball harder – and therefore farther and higher – than my not-very-big frame would otherwise suggest, but that I’m less in control than I’d like.  Just as in my life generally.  Swinging a little hard sometimes.  Not a lot of cool going on.

When I started playing regularly again in the last few years, I began getting more comments on my swing.  The most striking is one I’ve heard many times, from people I don’t know.  You frequently play golf with people you don’t know because the ideal group is four people, so, if you show up as a single, you usually get matched with others.  Many times now, within the first few holes, after I’ve stepped to the tee, taken my practice swing and then hit the ball, my heretofore unknown partner has asked me something like, “You’ve been playing since you were a little kid, haven’t you?”  One asked me if I’d been playing since I was 12.  When I told him that I actually started when I was 9, he said, “So much the better.” 

The first time this happened, I was dumbfounded and had to ask, “How’d you know I started as a kid?” 

“You look very natural.  You don’t hardly even think about it.  It’s one practice swing and then pow!  It’s not like me.  I learned when I was an adult.  I had to take lessons and all of that, so, when I get ready to swing, I’m always remembering where to put my elbows and my feet and a bunch of other things.  I can barely remember to swing.  Have you ever even had a lesson?”


“That’s about what I thought.”

The funny thing about having this information about yourself out on display when you play golf, though, is you’re the only one who can’t see it or feel it.  You’re inside your swing, so you can’t see it and it happens so fast, it’s hard to feel when it’s good and when it’s bad.  You see the results, obviously.  You can even feel the results, as you can tell through your hands whether you hit the ball on the sweet spot or too thin or on the toe.  You can’t, however, see how far back your backswing goes or the angle at which the club drives through the ball or whether your club was open, closed or flush at impact.  You can’t feel in the middle of your swing that something is right or wrong.  It’s like being an astronaut during the brief period when a spacecraft can’t communicate during reentry.  And people with whom you play won’t tell you much about your swing because there is an unspoken rule among golfers: do not give advice unless asked.  And few golfers ever ask.  Giving someone else unsolicited advice on his or her golf swing is, if you’ve ever watched Pulp Fiction, about like giving someone else’s wife a foot rub.  You just don’t do it.

This leaves, then, mysteries.  How does my swing look?  How does it work?  What am I doing wrong?  Right?  There’s really only one way to know and that’s video.  But who’s vain enough to ask a friend or a loved one to sit there and videotape you hitting golf balls?  All golfers want to know, though, so, when I finally decided to take a second lesson – my push fade was driving me nuts and injuring the many trees my shots were hitting – I had one non-negotiable requirement: there needed to be video.  I needed to see my swing.

When, at my lesson, I finally saw my swing, it was revealing.  My teacher spotted my problem quickly – I was pushing my hands out too far from my body and needed to keep my hands in tighter throughout my swing.  More than that, though, it was striking to see on video that, at the end of my swing, my shoulders were bent so far back that they were behind my hips, forming my back into a backwards C-shape.  My teacher called an “old school reverse C swing” and I liked that very much because “old school” makes me think of Julius Erving with a big Afro throwing down vicious 70s dunks.  And Dr. J was the coolest.  In addition, all of those years, I had no idea I was working my back the way I do.  On screen, it looked like it would hurt, but it never does.  “Do you ever have any back problems?” my teacher asked.  No, I really don’t.  I guess I’d trained my back to take that particular kind of abuse over the last 30 years.  And there was that front foot flying wide open, every time.

It was especially strange to try to fix the problem my teacher identified.  Every time I tried to keep my hands tight in, it felt so odd, like I was going to hit myself in the left foot every time.  Every time, I felt like I was going to fall over forward because swinging with my hands close threw off the balance I’d had for 30 years.  I couldn’t argue with the results as the ball went straighter . . . when I managed to do what I was supposed to do.  Doing that, though, required me to think more about each swing, which was almost contrary to what had been good about my swing in the first place.  It just feels so weird.

It is good, however, to stretch yourself now and then, even if it only means trying something a little different when you play golf.  It is a tough balance because you can lose your swing and a lot of other things if you throw out the fundamentals – ask Tiger.  It nonetheless is important to try because, if you don’t, how will you ever know what you can do?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Go Ahead, Call It A Comeback . . .

I haven't been here in years

Bad Day for Gen X

            On May 4, it was plain what had happened as soon as “Trending: Adam Yauch” appeared on-line.  Five minutes later, my mid-20s brother sent me a text telling me that MCA had died.  It wasn’t a surprise.  We’d known he’d had cancers and, when he hadn’t made the Beastie Boys’ induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just about 10 days before, you had to know something very bad was going to happen.

            You’d have to work hard to find someone whose death would have had a wider impact specifically on the group of us that others tagged Generation X.  When we were kids, there were basically three musical explosions, before the Internet, before the idea of everyone hearing the same thing at the same time became quaint.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller, in 1983, was the first – when we were figuring how close to dance – and Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 was the last – right as we were figuring out how to buy our own food.  The Beastie Boys hit in 1986, right in our teenage sweet spot.  Bon Jovi was unavoidable for a little while and U2 grew into the world’s biggest band, but Michael Jackson, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana were the ones who were everywhere, all at one.  But only the Beastie Boys were rap.

            It’s hard to reconstruct how new, disruptive and beautifully obnoxious rap was in 1986.  If you were a teen in 1986, then you had spent the better part of your life being told how amazing the Sixties, and especially Sixties music, had been.  Let’s have whole radio stations that are devoted to remembering how wonderful things were before you were born!  Not everyone got told that straight out, but that was the vibe.

            Rap was a screw you to all that.  It wasn’t exactly new – it had been around since the late 70s if you knew where to look.  But 1986 is when rap blew up, first with Run D.M.C.’s Raising Hell and then with the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill.  Older people hated it, which made it so much better.  A few years later, at a party, a guy in his forties said, “I didn’t think that they could make a kind of music I wouldn’t like, but then they made rap.”  Music to a younger generation’s ears.    They called rap stealing.  They called it noise.  And the Beastie Boys were very, very noisy on Licensed to Ill.

            I don’t remember the first time I heard the Beastie Boys, but remember clearly when I fully became aware of them.  It was the 1986 Student Council Christmas party.  The cool student body president was talking about how much he liked them, how funny they were.  Everyone agreed.  Well, I didn’t exactly because I remember thinking that they were too whiny, especially Ad Rock, and that I liked Run D.M.C. better.  Just after that, though, the Beastie Boys were everywhere.  “Fight For Your Right To Party” was everywhere.  The next summer, my cousin and I snaked our dads’ tickets to a charity golf tournament and spent the whole day puzzling out the Boys’ lyrics on a boom box in a golf cart.  I’m sure the group behind us just loved it.

            Licensed to Ill became the soundtrack for the rest of high school.  My two best friends and I spent hours driving around in one’s late 70s Lincoln Continental coupe – a 20-foot-long two-door – and the driver played Licensed to Ill on continuous loop.  For two years.  There was even a nationwide hoax that Mike D had been killed in a plane crash – that’s why there was a smashed plane on the album cover!  Eventually, I got sick of Licensed to Ill.  No matter how good “brass monkey, that funky monkey, brass monkey junkie, that funky monkey” sounds, it’ll wear you out the 1,000,000th time you hear it.

            When I went off to college, I didn’t take the B Boys with me.  I was listening to, for my doses of rap, Tone-Loc – enabling me to still use the phrase “Cheeba, cheeba” in casual conversation – De La Soul and Public Enemy.  In 1989, though, the Beastie Boys released Paul’s Boutique and that was a new thing.  I can’t claim to be one of those who figured out that Paul’s Boutique was a classic right away.  But the music was different, built around an avalanche of samples, not the big guitar riffs like much of Licensed to Ill.  My strongest memory of it is one line in “Hey Ladies” and having to go back and catch There’s more to me than you’ll ever know and I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh.  I was a baseball geek, I knew who Sadaharu Oh was – he was the worldwide home run record holder, from Japan.  They rhymed off Sadaharu Oh?!?  Maybe there was more to the Beastie Boys than I thought.

            If they’d disappeared at that point, the Beastie Boys would been one of the big 80s acts.  They could’ve played county fairs with Flock of Seagulls for years.  It was then, though, that they grew into something much different.

            Their key year was 1994.  You’ve got to remember what 1994 was.  We’re in our mid-20s, trying to figure where we’re going.  We’re finishing school, we’re getting our first grown-up jobs, we’re getting married and having our first kids.   We’re figuring out where and how to make our lives.  1994 was also just when you could feel that something big was about to happen.  People were starting to have this thing “e-mail,” where you could talk to people through your computer, like Matthew Broderick in War Games or Ferris Bueller without the illegal hacking or risk of nuclear annihilation.  Within my first couple of weeks of law school in 1992, I was introduced to LEXIS, which had an unbelievable amount of information available through your computer.  All of this was out there?!?  I felt like some kind of superhero the first time I used it.  Info Man!  By 1994, I actually knew how to use the thing.  With a little Boolean code, I could find anything with my computer.  (A quick footnote: LEXIS and its competitor WestLaw use a business model similar to drug dealers – give law students free access in school, get them hooked and then charge actual attorneys a bunch of money to use their services.)  By 1994, we’d seen our first music revolution, when Nirvana and then Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers and then the rest swamped Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul and the hair bands.

            We knew, though, that the future wasn’t necessarily so bright that we’d have to wear shades.  The hangover from the 1991-1992 recession lingered.  Jobs were not that easy to find.  When The Mermaid was born December 31, 1994, I was still looking for my first job as an attorney, a good six months after I thought I had that nailed down.  A few days after The Mermaid was born, my MIL babysat her and The Muse – still recovering from a rocket-propelled labor – so I could drive, at night and after class, through a driving rainstorm to Stockton for a job interview/dinner.  I wanted a job bad.  Culturally, 1994 was a tough year, too.  On April 5, 1994, Kurt Cobain killed himself with a shotgun.  Around the same time, a strange guy named Beck had a big hit with his song “Loser” – Sooyyy un perdedor, I’m loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me? – which seemed like an appropriate follow-up to Radiohead’s song “Creep” – I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell I’m doing here? I don’t belong here – which was big just a few months earlier.  1994 was that time when we were figuring out that – like everyone else – would have to make our own way.  We had reached the point that Bridget Fonda’s character in the 1992 movie Singles described when she said, “I think time’s running out to do something bizarre.  Somewhere around 25, bizarre becomes immature.”

            Right in the middle of this – in May 1994, a month after Cobain killed himself – the Beastie Boys released Ill Communication, which included what, to me at least, are still their two best songs, “Sure Shot” and “Sabotage.”  What they’d done is keep the tight rhymes built upon crazy cultural references, laid them over all kinds of new music – sampling having become much more expensive since Paul’s Boutique because the samplees had started wanting royalties – and put them into the service of a new, almost grown-up vibe.  On “Sure Shot,” Mike D raps, at one point, I got more action than my man John Woo and I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew.  Think about just that one line.  In 1994, John Woo hadn’t yet broken through in Hollywood – other than the van Damme movie Hard Target – and was only really known by people who watched action movies from Hong Kong.  Rod Carew, on the other hand, was a Hall of Fame baseball player who began playing in 1967, collected his 3,000th hit in 1985 and then retired.  How many people – pre-Internet – knew who both of those guys were?

            “Sure Shot” – the first track on the disc and therefore its declaration of purpose –  however, is much more than a collection of cool references (which also include Yoo-Hoo and Doug E. Fresh).  It screams “I’m in my mid-20s and I’m just starting to figure it out.”    Mike D. raps, Everyone just takes, takes, takes, takes, take, I gotta step back, I gotta contemplate, then later I’m a newlywed, I’m not a divorcee, later still You say I’m twenty-something and I should be slacking, but I’m working harder than ever and you could call it macking/So I’m supposed to sit on my couch watching my TV, I’m listening to wax, I’m not using the CD.  Right after Mike D’s bit about listening to wax, Ad Rock raps Well, I’m that kid in the corner, all fucked up and I wanna, so I’m gonna take a piece of the pie.  Why not? I’m not quittin’.  Think I’m gonna change up style just to fit in?

            You couldn’t get much of a better vision of where we were than that.  We’re getting married.  We’re supposed to be the Slacker generation, but, screw you, we’re not.  Not only are we figuring it out, we’re going to figure it out our own way.  We’re going to keep the good stuff – like wax – and we’re going to mix it up into something new.

            It’s MCA’s lyrics on “Sure Shot” that go a little deeper and really hit home.  I got more rhymes than I got gray hairs and that’s lot because I got my share.  Is there another rapper – another rock star – who would have said something like that?  MCA was 29 when Ill Communication was released.  When Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were not quite 30, the Stones had their 1972 tour, during which they stayed for a while at the Playboy Mansion and Mick supposedly carried a gun because the Hells Angels were thought to have put a hit on him after Altamont.  Also on “Sure Shot,” MCA apologized for the B Boys’ prior treatment of women: “I’m going say a little something, that’s all I’m do.  That disrespecting women has got to be through.  To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I wanna offer my love and respect to the end.  The Beastie Boys had grown up, but in their own funky way.

            The “Sabotage” video was really the icing on this cake.  “Sabotage” is a great song, with sweet guitars that the band played themselves.  As someone whose first memory is of watching on TV the House Judiciary Committee considering articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon – I remember from when I was about three sitting on the floor of my first house with my dad watching long rows of people with the towering presence of a black woman among them, someone I determined as an adult to be Rep. Barbara Jordan – I especially appreciated how much of “Sabotage” was built from the line I’m a-set it straight, this Watergate.  The video, though, was genius, with the Beastie Boys reenacting – in terrible wigs and mustaches, driving those bad American cars that undercover cops always drove on TV – some unknown episode of one of those bad 70s cop shows that ran endlessly when we were kids and before there was cable.  If you weren’t watching reruns of The Brady Bunch, or got lucky and found some Looney Tunes, there was always a rerun of Barnaby Jones you could watch.  If you got really lucky, your parents would let you stay up to watch Starsky & Hutch.   The “Sabotage” video was the best goof on all of that you’ll ever see.

            Having set this trajectory, the B Boys stayed on it for the rest of their career.  They had massive success producing great goofy stuff that you weren’t going to fully get unless your formative years had included the 80s.  On “Body Movin’,” Ad Rock raps: If you pulled my card, you pulled the ace.  If you ask me, turn up the bass and, if you play Defender, rock a bridge to hyperspace.  What was it that Joel’s father noticed when he returned home at the end of Risky Business?  It was that Joel had pushed the bass on the stereo’s equalizer too high.  After all the underwear-dancing and Guido-the-killer-pimp-fleeing and Porsche-killing and bordello-making, Joel hadn’t put the bass back right.  And, if you’re male and aged 35 to 45 now, then you know you used hyperspace to keep from getting killed in Defender – one of the hardest video games I’ve ever played – at least once.  The B Boys’ “Intergalatic” video – directed by MCA – may top “Sabotage” in its sublime oddness, with shots of the group rapping through a Japanese subway in radiation suits intercut with scenes of a giant, popping robot fighting Godzilla.  Their 2011 disc Hot Sauce Committee Part Two contains, among other things, MCA’s offer that If you’re feeling chilly, I’ma get you a shawl.

            Now it’s seems like it would have been easy to stay on a track on which you already were successful, but it’s important to remember that rap changed completely around the B Boys.  Beginning probably with Dr. Dre’s 1992 solo debut The Chronic, rap went heavily gangsta.  Can’t say I’ve listened to a lot of it.  Some of the music sounds very cool – Dr. Dre’s and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’ But G Thang” especially – but the messages were completely antithetical to what the Beastie Boys were doing.

            Most amazingly, the Beastie Boys became a way to connect with our kids.  In 2009, I took Enthusio – then 10 – to see the Star Trek reboot.  If you’ve seen it, then you know what I’m talking about.  Kirk’s first appearance – after his father heroically sacrifices himself – is as an 11- or 12-year-old kid joyriding in his jerk of a stepfather’s beautiful mid-1960s rag-top Corvette.  (Do not ask how a mid-1960s car survived in pristine condition until the 2200s or how a pre-teen in that century knew how to drive a stick-shift seamlessly.  We’re working with symbolism here.)  He takes this joyride to the tune of “Sabotage.”  The director – J.J. Abrams, born 1966 – thought the song was so crucial to the movie that he kept its line I got this fuckin’ thorn in my side – and thus dropped the only and only F-bomb he was allowed while keeping the movie PG-13.  Enthusio loved the movie and the scene and, partly for that reason, loves the song “Sabotage.”  I suspect teenage boys will always love that song, such a pure wail against the injustice of it all.

            So what I’ll submit to you is that the Beastie Boys, among all of the artists and celebrities we’ve seen – beginning with John Travolta and ending so far with Paul Rudd and Tina Fey – have come the closest to speaking for our crowd, the one that others decided to name Generation X.  I know that not everyone likes the B Boys.  The Muse still doesn’t, although she watched a repeat of their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with me after MCA died.  People our age, however, tend to wear as a badge of honor the fact that not everyone likes what we do.  Think I’ma change up my style just to fit in?  The B Boys provided the rowdy soundtrack for our rowdy years, grew up in their own funky way just as we were trying to do and stayed goofy – stayed real – the whole time.  That’s just about what all of my friends and I have wanted to do all along.

            I’d been trying to write this since MCA’s passing, but couldn’t quite figure it all out until last weekend when I went to a class reunion for the high school class ahead of me.  At the end, at somewhere around 1 a.m., just before the DJ started playing the last song, he yelled, “I want all of the guys on stage right now.”  In our states, we complied.  Just as we hopped on the little stage,” the big, loud guitar hook of “Fight for Your Right to Party” blasted off.  And with that, fifty or so 40ish guys – including army officers, teachers, corporate higher-ups, attorneys and dads of all shapes and sizes – began yelling every word.  Livin’ at home is such a drag, nooowww your mom threw away your best porno mag.  Can’t really imagine another song that would have worked.

            RIP MCA.  RIP Beastie Boys.

Just a note: a lot of this was researched.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Feeling Evil

Toward the end of college, the Muse and I took a few classes together, one of which was a modern American history class taught by a senior graduate, who would, at the slightest prompting, tell you about his search for a tenure-track professor somewhere, anywhere. One day, he said that “we would be talking about the past today, but all of history is in the past, I guess, so we’re going to talk about it anyway.” As was typical of these classes, we were sentenced to a one-hour “discussion section” of about 10 students led by a junior grad student. When the Muse and I walked into our discussion section, I more or less decided that there was no point to showering or brushing my hair because I was never going to be as good-looking as the grad student teaching the section.

We’ll call this Adonis “BS.” Well, BS seemed to develop a bit of crush on the Muse, which, as you can imagine, did not please me. Moreover, this guy knocked my grade on a paper about the movie version of The Grapes of Wrath down partly because I said that one character in the movie was a clear allusion to FDR. Specifically, BS wrote on this part of my paper, “From under what deconstructionist rock did you get this?” Later, in college, when an actual professor referred to the fact that the character in the movie looked amazingly like FDR, I wanted to hunt down BS and rub his nose in it.

Well, the Muse and I got to talking about BS a while ago. She referred to some newspaper columnist saying that he was “so gay” for some other man, I said that I really didn’t understand the concept, that I understood how other guys could be super good-looking like BS, but that I didn’t really understand the “so gay for” thing. This led the Muse to Google BS. What she discovered induced me to develop a truly wicked, evil sense of superiority.

The Muse’s Googling turned up that BS got his Ph.D in 2001 – a mere nine years after our class with him – then went and got a law degree – in 2006 – and is now a junior attorney at a Nevada firm, practicing water and environmental law. I practice water and environmental law. I graduated from law school in 1995. I have been an attorney for over 12 years. I made partner in 2002.

As soon as the Muse showed me BS’s current occupation and status, my immediate thought, “Oh my God, if he was my associate” – notice the ownership allusion, “my” associate – “I would make his life miserable.” I started cooking up miserable projects I could give BS. I would send him to depositions with obnoxious opposing counsel. I would work the words “deconstruct” and :”rock” into every conversation.

I knew this was bad, but, ooh, it felt good. Like milk, I guess a little hypothetical revenge does a body good.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

LEGO America

If you use Google -- and if you're not a Microsoft or Yahoo employee, then you know that you do -- then, at some point, you've noticed that Google sometimes changes the word "Google" on its home page according to the season. For Christmas, it's dressed up for Christmas. For Valentine's Day the other day, there was a picture of a elderly couple in love and apparently sprinting away to some place where they didn't want to be watched. A few weeks ago, I clicked on Google and I noticed that the word "Google" depicted in square letters. I hadn't seen that before, so I looked closer. It turned out that it was the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick.

This gave me a warm fuzzy because, man, I loved LEGO's when I was a kid -- especially Star Wars LEGO's. First, you'd assemble them according to the directions for whatever Star Wars ship you had bought or received and then, a week later, you'd tear them up and make race cars. The themed LEGO sets were the gateway to true LEGO obsession because, of course, the real attraction of LEGO's is the ability to make whatever the hell you want that you can get little bricks to form. Because you really don't care -- or at least I didn't care -- what color combination is involved with really great LEGO creations, they end up being a random mosaic of colors, kind of like the American melting pot as depicted on ABC's Schoolhouse Rock.

Which brings me finally to my point. In this most interesting of political years, the media is treating we voters -- at least the Democratic ones -- like LEGO bricks. It has become somewhat disturbing to watch television coverage of, and read print articles about, primary election returns because they are focusing so heavily on the demographics of the voters. Last week, Obama won Virginia and the big news was that he had cut into Clinton's "base" with "the female vote" and "the Latino vote." But the coverage didn't stop there: they then broke it down to how did how well with "white Catholics" and "white evangelicals." It's similar when Clinton wins.

It's as if the media sees the multi-colored LEGO creations that these candidates assemble to win in any given state and all that they want to do is smash them on the ground and examine the pieces. The pieces were never the point of LEGO's and are not the point of running an election. Do we really want people who want to be our president to be spending all of their time figuring out how to grind out a slightly higher percentage of the female Latino evangelical vote or the male biracial Hindu vote? Isn't that kind of thinking how we got to where we are today, which no one seems to think is where we should stay?

The joy of LEGO's is in their assembly. The assembly of voters hopefully will be the joy of this election year. The people who are telling us the story of this election need to remember that a little more.

Friday, February 08, 2008

They Killed The Time Lady

The clocks in our house drive me kind of crazy. None of them match. My alarm clock is something like seven minutes faster than The Muse's alarm clock. The clocks in our kitchen are somewhere in between, but they don't match either. Until very recently, I would have resolved these issues by calling the Time Lady.

You know the Time Lady. You could call 767-8900 and she would tell you exactly what time it was down to the ten-second intervals. "At the tone, Pacific Standard Time will be one forty-three p.m. and thirty seconds." No matter what, she always had this very smooth tone, just oozing pleasantness and knowledge. It always reminded of a really nice librarian. I began calling the Time Lady as a kid. It didn't occur to me until much later that the time quotes could have been assembled by a computer from little quotes from the Time Lady. I mean, for her to have recorded each individual ten-second interval, she would have had to record -- according to my calculations -- at least 69,120 time statements (6 10-second intervals per minute x 60 minutes per hour x 24 hours per day x 4 continental American time zones x 2 time alternatives [Standard and Daylight Savings] = 69,120). How could anyone have done that? But her time statements never sounded constructed, unlike the apartment information that the Muse and I got before we moved to the Bay Area ("Off . . . street par-king"). A few years ago, though, I was clicking channels at some point and saw some story in which they actually showed the Time Lady recording her time statements. She looked just as I imagined -- kind of bluish hair, glasses a little out of style. It made me happy.

And now they have killed her. Well, they haven't killed her -- I haven't heard her that the lady herself is dead. The phone company, however, no longer makes her time statements available. If you call 767-8900, you apparently get nothin'. This is wrong, wrong like how Mr. Dry Wit's friend described it as wrong when everyone on Sesame Street -- not just Big Bird -- became able to see Mr. Snuffleupogas. My kids will not be able to call the Time Lady to find out exactly what time is.

Nor will I and this bugs me. We have fewer and fewer common experiences these days. Everyone uses the Web and their My Yahoo pages and their iPods to edit the world per their predilections. The Time Lady, however, could tell everyone what time it was. Now what the hell are we all supposed to rely on? Atomic clocks are not yet available at Sharper Image or in SkyMall, as far as I know. What are the other options to find out exactly what time it is? The little clock in the bottom right-hand corner of your Microsoft Windows screen? Screw that. Bill Gates has his money-grubbing fingers in enough places in our lives. I don't need him to be defining time for me. The government? I'll bet Gates would send Dick Cheney a daily Excel file on everyone who accessed the government's official clock.

Where have you gone, Mrs. Time Lady? A nation turns its lonely ears to you.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Goodbye, Isuzu

There was an obituary in the business section. Isuzu decided to stop selling cars in the US. This made me sad.

The article focused on how Isuzu's "Joe Isuzu" commercials had been something of a phenomenon in the 1980's and how Isuzu had been one of the first companies to sell SUV's You remember Joe Isuzu. He was the oily used-car-salesman-type guy who described Isuzus as being able to go 300 miles an hour, with a little graphic below that said something like "going down a mountain in a hurricane." They were very funny and helped Isuzu sell a lot of cars for a while. Isuzu's Trooper was one of the first SUV's, along with the Jeep Cherokee. As you know, they spawned bigger and bigger SUV's, eventually achieving their ultimate expression. Once every freakin' car company on the planet except Yugo started building SUV's -- hello, Cadillac Escalade and Porsche Cayenne -- no one bought Isuzu Troopers any more and they died a long, slow death.

The end of Isuzu America made me sad because, in my first wave of sports car lust, I really wanted an Isuzu Impulse. Well, I really wanted a Porsche 911 or 944 or a Ferrari of any type, but that wasn't going to happen. An Isuzu Impulse was somewhere near the range of doable. The Impulse really was the spawn of the first generation of the VW GTI, the seminal pocket rocket car. While the first GTI was boxy and the GTI has never achieved artistic excellence, the Impluse was a very nice-looking car, being designed by some acclaimed Italian designer. It had a turbo four, which what my Audi has now. Besies being named "Isuzu," it had enough other kind of goofy features to give it some weird cred. It had pods of controls on either side of the instrument cluster whose height could be adjusted so that you could have your windshield wiper controls just where you wanted them. I didn't want a Toyota Celica -- that was a chick car. I didn't want a Nissan Pulsar -- that thing was butt ugly. The Dodge Daytona was pretty cool, but my parents had had a Dodge Charger that more or less fell to pieces under their feet, so that wasn't happening. I wanted an Isuzu Impulse.

I never got one and not too many other people did either. The GTI lives on, funky cool as ever. The Impulse is dead. When I read the article about Isuzu America's demise, I ran an Autotrader search for any Impulse between 1981 and 2008 within 500 miles of my town. There was not a single one for sale. They have disappeared from the face of the earth, like the dinosaurs and Michael Dukakis. Good luck, Isuzu, I wish you well back in Japan.

There Are Evil People In This World


I'm not a religious guy, owing to circumstances that wouldn't interest you. I believe in a higher power and all, but not being attached to any particular faith and having gotten a UC education, I tend not to buy into a whole lot of handed-down rules other than the Golden one. A law school friend of mine had his own issues with religion, but married a more-or-less lapsed Mormon and found himself struggling with her family's faith. He described his philosophy to me one day as follows: "There are a lot of religions and I don't know which one is right, so I just try to treat people well and do what I think is right." He and his wife eventually divorced, although not over religion, but I have always liked his philosophy.

All of that being said, however, there are times when you just have to recognize that there are evil, evil people out there.

Today's confirmation came from Iraq, where else? I thought that the invasion was a stupid idea at the beginning and now am just one guy in about 85% of the American population that thinks that it was a stupid idea in retrospect. It drives me nuts that my kids are going to be paying for it, financially and possibly geopolitically, in that Iraq has sure managed to get a lot of people angry at our country. What Iraq such a difficult issue, however, is that you can't deny that at least some of the people who our troops are fighting over there are plain evil.

Yesterday, bombs in Iraq killed something like 30 people, the worst daily toll in a while. I saw that squib on my Yahoo home page and it made me queasy. When I read the article in today's paper, I wanted to puke. Apparently, after looking at the severed heads of the presumed bombers and talking to witnesses who had seen them before they exploded, the relevant authorities determined that the bombers actually were female beggars with Downs syndrome who someone had convinced to wear jackets of explosives during their daily begging in the market, someone who then detonated the explosives via remote control. No adjective is sufficient here.

Because of the Mermaid, I am very sensitive to the treatment of people with disabilities. You do not need to have a child with a disability, however, to recognize evil when you see it. I grew up during the Cold War and it was scary, thinking about all of those nuclear-tipped Soviets missiles pointed at us. The Soviets did some bad things, but they never sent planes to crash into our buildings and I don't ever remember hearing about them taking advantage of disabled people as bombers. It's a different thing out there in the world and we just need to recognize it for what it is.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Porn Is Not For Kids

OK, I know it's been a while for The Webbed Toe, but I'm back and I have a list of ten topics or so to write about, so I'm planning to get your synapses firing again. Well, I'll try at least. Here it goes:

Making kids' movies these days must be hell. When I was a kid, Disney put out a new animated movie every few years, they dragged Bambi and the other classics out every once in a while and, in between, they made Witch Mountain movies. We were happy to have this stuff because there wasn't anything else. Now, it's a whole new world. Pixar makes brilliant movies. Enthusio asked me to make a list of my ten favorite movies and, in doing so, I realized that The Incredibles is probably in my top 25 -- not kids' movies, any movies. Even some lesser kids movies are pretty good. The first Shrek hit just the right balance between kid humor and grown-up humor. When it made a gadzillon dollars, everyone started trying to make kids' movies that arched their eyebrows at the culture for grown-ups' amusement. It's shrewd marketing, of course -- grown-ups buy the tickets after all.

The whole "kids movies with grown-up humor" thing, however, has gone way too far.

There are always going to be bad kids movies, just like there are bad grown-up movies. For example, the kids and I saw a kids movie named Doogal a few years ago. It made so little sense -- it climaxed with a showdown between two magical springs who cast their spells by twisting the ends of their handlebar mustaches, no lie -- that I began to wonder if it had been dubbed from another language. With a little research, I discovered that it more or less had, with the source material being French. Those crazy French. A mime show starring Carrot Top would have made more sense than Doogal.

Still, plain bad kids movies are not what this post concerns. This post concerns thoroughly inappropriate things being inserted in kids' movies for the purported amusement of grown-ups. The straw that broke the camel's back by reaching a tipping point over the line in the sand on this issue for me was the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. I didn't see it, but I saw the ads and they were enough.

One of those ads featured during its 30-second duration the following "jokes:" (1) after the long-suffering Dave, the Chipmunks' pal/manager/plantation owner, talks to an attractive woman, one of the Chipmunks busts out the music line "bow-m, chick-a, bow-m, bow-m;" (2) after another woman leaves the room in a French maid outfit, one of the other Chipmunks lets loose a "oooh la la;" and (3) when some other Chipmunk leaps off of something heroically, he yells, "Yippee k-eye yeah mama-cita." Item (2) would be halfway tolerable. It's not a whole lot worse than that stinking Pepe LePue -- the second-worst Looney Tune after Speedy Gonzales -- used to do, although, in the Chipmunks' case, having the chipmunk say it suggests some weird inter-species stuff.

Items (1) and (3), however, depict the decline and fall of American culture.

Of the two, item (3) is slightly more tolerable. It derives from a famous Bruce Willis line from the Die Hard movies, specifically "Yippee K-eye yeah motherf----r." Really, do we really have to reference the mother of all obscenities in an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie?!? Oh, those Chipmunks, they're so f----n' funny, ha ha ha. Maybe Samuel L. Jackson -- the F-Word King -- can voice one of the Chipmunks in the next movie to really hammer home how hip the Chipmunks are.

So item (3) was appalling, but it really was nothing compared to item (1) -- in which one of the Chipmunks suggested the attractiveness of Dave's date by spouting the universally-known porn-movie music. As John McEnroe would say, "Are you kidding me?!?" Adults are supposed to want to think the Chipmunks are funny and thus want to see the movie because the Chipmunks know about porn?!? That had to be the logic behind putting that part of the movie in the ad. My head almost exploded when I saw that commercial.

I am a pretty liberal guy, but I think that we need an exception to the First Amendment for porn references in kids' movies. Maybe we can sick Dick Cheney on such things once he stops running the country.

Giving a McEnroe

One of the Muse's friends told her something funny quite a while ago. Her friend said that either she or one of her friends had invented the idea of the "Slap Squad," which could be sent to smack someone whose irritating qualities or behavior entitled them to some free pain administration. The Muse now uses a picture of the Slap Squad on her blog when she get mad. It's quite entertaining.

Figuring that I need a gimmick, too, I have decided to start assessing a McEnroe when something strikes me as offensive and ridiculous. This new gimmick derives of course from the 1970's and 1980's tennis player John McEnroe. The man was a brilliant tennis player, but also a ferocious jerk quite a bit of the time, at least on the court. In particular, when he felt that a call had been made incorrectly in his opponent's favor, he used to yell, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?" His tantrums became iconic. A friend recently told me and some others that, in a past life, he had been a sports photographer for a newspaper and McEnroe had yelled at him during a match. We are all very, very impressed.

So, now in this space, when I comment on something that I just can't believe, I will be assessing its perpetrator a McEnroe by applying that picture of McEnroe to them. Watch out, evildoers.